The Ravens are rightfully basking in their Super Bowl victory, but behind the scenes, work on the 2013 season has already begun. The personnel staff has already spent countless hours scouting college players and will attend the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next week.
General manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff also must deal with free agency, the salary cap, and the enormous issue of Joe Flacco's contract status. Newsome made clear at the 'State of the Ravens' news conference after the season that the Ravens do not expect to restructure a lot of contracts as they did after the previous Super Bowl title. Translation: There is likely to be significant roster upheaval this offseason.
Over the next few days, we’ll take a look at each Ravens position group to see who is likely to come back, who is likely to be gone, and what the ramifications are.
First, a few definitions: Unrestricted free agents have accrued at least four years of service, and their contracts have expired. They are free to sign with any team as of March 12. Restricted free agents have at least three years of service and their contracts have expired. Their current team can make an offer, which includes draft pick compensation value. If another team makes an offer, the current team can either match that offer, or let the player go and in return, receive draft-choice compensation based on the value established via the offer. Exclusive-rights free agents have two or fewer years of service, and effectively aren’t free agents at all; if the Ravens make an offer, the player must accept it or be released.
Today, we begin with the offensive line. Note that for this analysis, we look only at players who were on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve.
Unrestricted free agents: T Bryant McKinnie
Restricted free agents: G/T Ramon Harewood
Exclusive-rights free agents: None
Under contract: G Bobbie Williams, C Matt Birk, C Gino Gradkowski, T Michael Oher, G/T Kelechi Osemele, G/T Jah Reid, G Marshal Yanda
The two huge questions here are McKinnie and Birk.
McKinnie's play over the final month of the season was critical to the Ravens' success, as he was inserted into the starting lineup for the playoffs. Quarterback Joe Flacco gave major credit to the offensive line for the team's postseason run.
"I think the way he (McKinnie) played down the stretch .... makes a statement for him," Newsome said at his season-ending news conference. "I think he has a decision to make as to whether he wants to come back and play here."
Loosely translated, what Newsome is saying is this: McKinnie, 33, is free to hit the free agent marketplace, and he's likely to see a better offer than the cash-strapped Ravens can make. Then it will be up to McKinnie whether he truly wants to return to Baltimore, as he told the Baltimore Sun via his agent.
Birk has been mum on whether he will return for a 16th season. He has battled through injuries to start every game in his four seasons in Baltimore, but he has about a $3.4 million cap number next season and turns 37 in July. With Lewis retiring, Birk would be the Ravens' oldest player. If he chooses not to retire, Birk could be a salary cap casualty, but that would likely move unproven Gino Gradkowski into the starting job.
Yanda had another Pro Bowl season, and he and Oher should hold down the right side of the line. Osemele looks like he has a long-term future at left guard. He was excellent there after moving from right tackle before the playoffs began.
Reid figures to again compete for time at both guard and tackle but hasn't been able to stay healthy. Williams is under contract, but the veteran is 36 and played little over the final two months. He is likely gone. His cap number (about $1.6 million) doesn't represent a huge savings, but every bit will help. Harewood has a chance to return with a cheap restricted free agent tender, but the former starter was a spectactor for the final three months and has to be viewed as a longshot to start again.
"I think the thing that we found out this season," Newsome said, "is that we have probably about eight or nine offensive linemen with starter potential that were able to go in and play very good football for us."